INSPIRATION The Sap is Rising

Taking the lead from Nature, K. M. Lockwood turns to botany for creative inspiration.

Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.
 William Wordsworth

The northern hemisphere is now turning towards the light. Candlemas (Christian), or Imbolc (Pagan), on 2nd February marked the midpoint of Winter between the shortest day and the Spring Equinox. If you look, there are small signs everywhere. The tips of daffodils, catkins, crocus blooms, and the haze of colour on willow strands. Even on a bit of municipal grass, you might find a daisy or two.

Day's Eyes by K. M. Lockwood CC

All these tiny hints of life are the starts of stories. The seed might well be hidden underground, like an idea in a creator's mind, but the new shoots mark the start for the observer. They can turn up in the most surprising of places - acorns buried by squirrels and forgotten about, or the fig forests of the River Don created during the Industrial Revolution in Yorkshire.

Yorkshire Fig by Clive Hicks CC
As every gardener knows, it's not always easy to tell a much-loved plant from a riotous weed at the beginning. Most seed leaves look pretty much the same, rather like cress. It takes a lot of practise to tell a baby lemon balm from a nettle, until one sprouts its secondary leaves. Then the scent or the sting will tell you.

The same goes for a new character. The sequence of images in a picture book, or the scenes in a narrative, will reveal the truth. Little by little, the seedling grows and shows its nature, perhaps literally in a non-fiction text. This organic form of characterisation seems natural to the reader.

Gardeners will also know how cunningly some weeds seem to disguise themselves. They appear to be adept at growing among the blooms you actually want and imitating them. Here's a fine metaphor for deliberate misdirection: that glossy, healthy seedling enjoying the sun that turns out to be Japanese Knotweed.

It also works for deceitful characters. Friends who prove false, or enemies in a cunning disguise, resemble brambles lurking among roses, or thistles in your lettuce patch. Almost indistinguishable at first, it's only later the blood let by their thorns or prickles reveals the truth. Some take even longer to take effect.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
King James Bible, Matthew 7:20

Elaeagnus pungens by Maggie CC

Happily, that applies to other types of character reveal too. Some plants can look uninspiring at first, then reveal unexpected beauty. The boring-looking shrub Elaeagnus with its ugly name and tiny, barely noticeable flowers looks suburban-dull. But, oh my, when you get a lungful of that scent!

Yates Seeds c1900 by Jim Linwood CC

Why not try these handy hints in your 'allotment'?

  • Plant characters who change radically with care. 
  • Sow small ambiguous hints when we first meet them. 
  • Distract us with showier specimens later on.
  • Let the full bloom come as a surprise, and yet be an organic part of their growth.
 To conclude, a happy thought from poet Edward Thomas:


Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed
And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flower of grass,
What we below could not see, Winter pass.

Eric Ravilious Vicarage in Winter 1935

Featured photo Snowdrops January 2018 by K. M. Lockwood CC

K. M. Lockwood writes and edits in The Garret. Once downstairs, she runs a tiny writer-friendly B&B or wanders off  looking for sea-glass on the Sussex coast.
Twitter: @lockwoodwriter

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